EXCLUSIVE: ‘Nindha’ took me on a rollercoaster ride, says Varun Sandesh

The Telugu actor looks back on his two-decade career and tells why one should watch Rajesh Jagannadham's directorial.

BySrivathsan Nadadhur

Published Jun 21, 2024 | 8:30 AM Updated Jun 21, 2024 | 2:39 PM

Varun Sandesh is cast as an NHRC officer in 'Nindha', a razor-sharp-crime thriller. (Supplied)

‘Comeback’, ‘resurgence’, ‘makeover’, and ‘2.O’ are some of the words that Happy Days (2007) actor Varun Sandesh has been hearing frequently in his public appearances lately. He is back in the limelight for Nindha, helmed and produced by a US return, Rajesh Jagannadham, that releases on Friday, (21 June). Following his conscious decision to drift away from love stories, the film’s timing couldn’t have been better.

Varun Sandesh’s career had a solid start with the dream run of Happy Days and Kotha Bangaru Lokam (2008), but he couldn’t quite utilise the early momentum efficiently. While he continued to be a popular actor and film offers kept knocking at his door later, it took him considerable time to regain lost ground. At 34, nearly twice the age at which he entered films, Varun Sandesh appears more sorted.

“I can clearly say that I am in a better state of mind now. I tried to learn and got better at my job. All of us wake up every day to be a better person. I was a kid when my first film was released and it was only natural to be intoxicated by the fame and attention. I was any other teenager who got swayed, attended parties and I admit I was not mature. Many did make an effort to get me back on track.”

Varun Sandesh recalls he was in denial mode for a long time in his career. “I’m ready to embrace reality. When I look into the mirror, I’m aware of what I am. The journey has taught me a lot and I’m progressing. If I compare it to cricket, I may have played a few dot balls in the past and I am back with a good film.” He’s cast as an NHRC officer in Nindha, a razor-sharp-crime thriller.

‘Nindha, a director’s film’

He and Rajesh were to work on a bigger project to be made on a large canvas but dropped it when producers didn’t come forward to back it.

“Rajesh came up with a new script and I was gobsmacked that someone could imagine me in such a role. When he spoke of his decision to produce it too, I felt it was a brave move. He’s the one-man army for the film and had great confidence in his abilities.”

“Though I am starring in a lead role after a long time, I will call Nindha a director’s film. Rajesh deserves complete credit and has delivered a quality product. While my character Vivek investigates complaints registered at the commission, we don’t delve deeply into the backdrop, it’s only an attempt to give a new dimension to the thriller.”

As Vivek, Varun Sandesh in Nindha is entrusted with a case where a villager allegedly rapes a woman and has to dig out uncomfortable truths surrounding the crime and the identity of the accused.

“The story is about how a society is affected when an innocent man loses faith in the system. Many in society are behind bars for crimes they haven’t committed and someone must stand up for them. My character offers them a sense of hope.”

“It was a mature, intense character (for a change), unlike the conventional lover boy roles (that I’ve been offered in the past) where I need to bring a lot of histrionics into play. The kid in me had to take a backseat and I truly enjoyed this realistic space more. I made an effort to express myself through my eyes, playing it subtly. Nindha took me on a rollercoaster ride.”

Nindha’s USP is its screenplay’

Despite the familiar premise, 'Nindha' will be an impactful film, Varun Sandesh assures. (Supplied)

Despite the familiar premise, ‘Nindha’ will be an impactful film, Varun Sandesh assures. (Supplied)

Varun Sandesh had an injury scare (a ligament tear during the shoot of Constable) before the shoot took off, which he terms a blessing in disguise. “The schedules, and dates were confirmed for Nindha right before my injury and Rajesh returned from the US to shoot for the film. Everyone was ready and I didn’t want to let the team down. I wore a cast and shot for it, maybe the pain and the awkwardness helped my performance.”

Although a handful of films have been made on this premise, Nindha’s USP is its screenplay. “Much like a viewer, I was biting my nails throughout the narration and kept bothering my director with guesses, and questions, and I went wrong every time. Even when Rajesh handed over the script to the team on set, he purposely didn’t give them the last 15 pages and kept them on their toes, channeling their anticipation to extract authentic performances.”

Despite the familiar premise, Nindha will be an impactful film, Varun Sandesh assures. “I believe entertainment is anything that keeps audiences invested in a film. There won’t be any forced humour or romance; it’s a guessing game, packed with suspense that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. It is a story-driven film where all characters will have equal prominence. The background score (by Santhu Omkar) plays a crucial role in sustaining its momentum.”

While the box office performance of the film may not be in Varun Sandesh’s hands, his biggest takeaway from Nindha has been his friendship with its director Rajesh Jagannadham.

“It’s hard to make true friends after a certain age, but I’m thrilled to have his back at this phase of my life. I found a big brother in him. He’s a man who put everything at stake to pursue his dream; has crazy ideas, and is here to stay for a long time.”

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Of retrospection and missed opportunities

The fate of the film is crucial for the actor, more so to widen his palette and open him to a plethora of roles. “Recently, I played a role with grey shades for the first time in Michael (with Sundeep Kishan) and got a great kick out of it. Regardless of its box office outcome, Michael (2023) gave me a lot of work and ensured visibility. The scripts that have come to me ever since had more variety.”

Varun Sandesh also regrets not taking up Locked (aha’s 2020 web show), the first project he was offered after his Bigg Boss Telugu stint. “Back then, I thought it was a crooked, wild character and felt I wasn’t in a mental space to take it up. In retrospect though, it feels like a lost opportunity. I could’ve experienced the same satisfaction from Locked much before Michael. I would’ve evolved as an actor.”

His unplanned ‘break’ from films after the initial success was necessary at some level, Varun Sandesh believes. “When I was shooting a film titled Mr 420 (2016), I wondered what I was doing with myself. I was frustrated, returned to the US, wanted to give a shot at business, and even planned an alternate career. Films turned out quite different from the narrations and I wasn’t a satisfied man. I lost myself and used the time to rediscover my love for the profession again.”

Varun Sandesh has two films in the pipeline—an untitled project in an ‘out of the box’ genre slated to hit screens this August and a cop saga, Constable.

“Nindha could have a sequel too and it depends on the response. The success of a film like this will give a lot of hope to actors like me and directors like Rajesh to tell newer stories, and make this industry a better place,” he signs off.

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(Edited by S Subhakeerthana)

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